Grace makes beauty out of ugly things

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11 October, 2020Pastor Andrew Brook

Click here to watch the Worship Video for Sunday 11 October.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! 2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:1-9

In 1960, the architect Robin Boyd published a book entitled: The Great Australian Ugliness. It was an attack on the poor architecture that characterised the vast and sprawling suburb of Australian cities. This book launched a thousand criticisms, not just about triple-front brick veneer houses, like the one I happily grew up in, but about the ugliness and laziness of Australian culture.

A few years ago the book was re-released, with a new cover and a foreword by the Melbourne author Christos Tsiolkas. You might have heard of him. His books like The Slap and Barracuda paint a gritty and unrelenting picture of the dark underbelly of contemporary Australian life: the anger, selfishness and revenge, infidelity and greed. And of course he’s right-all that that stuff is there, often hiding behind closed doors or office walls. We all know that there’s ugly stuff out there, but it’s also in us.

2020 has been an ugly year. I believe we desperately need to hear what the Apostle Paul has to say to us today. Paul’s watchword is joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” He needs to say it again because joy is hard to come by right now. Bad news dominates the 24-hour news cycle, and the good news we see is often forced, trite and only skin-deep.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean papering over the cracks of modern life, or pretending that everything’s just fine when it isn’t. Instead, Paul’s call to rejoice is built on the rock solid foundation of the action of God in Jesus Christ. We need to go back to the previous chapter to see how Paul sets out the reasons that Christians have to be joyful in the face of ugliness.Being a Christian doesn’t mean papering over the cracks of modern life, or pretending that everything’s just fine when it isn’t. Instead, Paul’s call to rejoice is built on the rock solid foundation of the action of God in Jesus Christ. We need to go back to the previous chapter to see how Paul sets out the reasons that Christians have to be joyful in the face of ugliness.

Chapter three begins with these words: “Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord.” Bu immediately, Paul warns about the false teachers who are seeking to undermine the only thing that can give the church confidence and hope: gaining Christ and being found in him, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.” And underlying these words is Paul’s conviction that the existence of the universe is not random and that it is the product of God’s creative hand. And we are created in God’s image, and God longs to share his life with us.

But Paul is also honest about the way in which sin mars God’s good creation. Paul speaks of those “who live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.” Evil has perverted what God intended to be good, and this has resulted in all kinds of ugliness in attitude and action.

So then, how can we rejoice in the face of this ugliness? Because God didn’t shirk the reality of human sin and entered into this sad and sorry world in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. Only through the cross and the resurrection of Jesus are the scales tipped toward hope and a future, despite what we see happening around and within us, in this year above all years. Paul reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven.” This means that our life is bracketed by the fact that we have been created by God in love, and that because of our relationship with him through his Son, we are on the trajectory to eternal life. And right now, in this messy middle, we know that God cares passionately and personally for us, and also for this broken world. And he is rebuilding the whole creation through the good news that he calls the church to live and proclaim.

Today Paul calls us to stand firm, as we are firmly held in his loving grasp. That’s the grounds for our joy. It’s a deep confidence in the nurturing love of God. This joy results in gentleness, which flows over into our relationships. The word Paul uses here is remarkably broad in meaning. Let your goodwill, friendliness, patience, forbearance be evident to all. What an antidote to ugly this is.

“The Lord is near…” Paul is thinking of the imminent return of Jesus to “bring everything under his control, [who] will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body.” I don’t think many of us think a lot about Jesus’ second coming, but this is one of the key Christian teachings. It’s important because it means that the world will not running down to an inevitable, ugly end, but that God will intervene at a time of his choosing, to announce that time’s up and that he’s creating a brand new heaven and a new earth, full of grace, beauty and joy in his presence. But at the same time, it is also true that the “Lord is near” through his gifts of grace that he continues to lavish on us, his word and holy meal, his presence within, the gift of each other, the way that the Holy Spirit lives in us and links us together.

This then leads to the next point. “Do not be anxious about anything.” I struggle with anxiety, and especially so this year. For me, anxiety is the sense that the world is out of control and I’m not on top of things. So firstly, Paul’s words really unsettle me, challenge me. But then I hear the grace in what Paul is saying. He is calling me, and you, to anchor in the safe haven of the one who loves us beyond measure and who has our lives in his hands, and whose intentions for us are always and only for our good.

From that thought, Paul moves next to prayer. Prayer is the clearest expression of God’s interest in the intricacies of our daily lives, warts and all. Paul writes, “In every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.” and by that I’m assuming he means every situation, the good, the bad, and the ugly of each day. We pray for ourselves in our struggles, and for others too, as they wrestle with the ugliness, knowing that God isn’t deaf to our cries. Seeing Jesus dying on the cross shows us that God cares, and that he has embraced the ugliness our sin in order to fill our lives with the beauty of his love and grace. If God’s Son would dare to suffer and die for us-if that God is for us, who can be against us. This is peace for all people, for the whole universe, but it’s also peace at the micro-level, in our day to day lives. Paul says that God stands like a sentry and guards not just our hearts, but our minds too, with his strong peace.

Finally, Paul gives a list of beautiful thing to think about in the middle of the ugliness of this morning’s news, and the things that are going on for us personally. Considering these things reframes our thinking about our lives and our relationships, and how the good news impacts everything we do and say.

  • Whatever is true- Jesus calls Christians to pray: “Lord, sanctify us by your truth. Your word is truth.” And so that’s why we dwell in God’s word, today, and, I ray, daily during the week.
  • Whatever is worthy of respect-who do you admire for their integrity in this community-how can you thank them, even seek to be mentored by them?
  • Whatever is right-Paul is thinking of right and wrong in terms of those right behaviours and attitudes that come from a right relationship with God. This kind of right isn’t interested in pointing out the wrong in others, but letting the right lead the way and point to the beauty of God’s righteousness.
  • Whatever is pure-purity is the core of God’s being. God is perfect love and beauty, and he wants to share this with us. I think of James’ words here: “the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
  • ”Whatever is lovely-literally, whatever bends toward love of others. How can you ‘be lovely’ to others. It’s attitudes and actions that our world so desperately needs?
  • Whatever is admirable or virtuous-think of the classic virtues taught by the church: chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. These habits incarnate God’s loving nature and build up the common good?
  • Whatever is praiseworthy-how have you thanked and encouraged those who have served and cared for you; and how have you praised God for all his love. And how might your life elicit that reaction from others, praising not you, but God working through you?

The other day Facebook reminded me that it is 20 years ago that the band U2 released the album, All That You Can’t Leave Behind. This one song, called “Grace” spoke powerfully then, and still does to me today, of the power of God’s grace to bring hope, share peace and change life for the good. There’s one line that sticks with me: Grace makes beauty out of ugly things

There is much in contemporary Australian culture that is ugly and life-draining. We all know and experience it. But it’s Jesus, and trust in him, which brings beauty out of ugliness, and healing out of brokenness.Grace makes beauty out of ugly things. God has done this through the ugliness and pain of the cross, from which flows the amazing beauty of resurrection life. God calls us to share his beautiful grace with others. As you do so, may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Sunday 22 November, 2020

22 November, 2020 Stephen Noblett

Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 22 November.

Many of you will immediately recognise the person in this picture. It is Mother Teresa or perhaps more accurately Saint Teresa. She was well known for her work amongst the poorest of the poor in India – feeding the hungry, caring for the dying as well as providing other forms of assistance. Her life revolved around living out our text this morning.

While searching for the picture of her that is on the screen, I came across one of her many quotes “At the end of our lives we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made or how many great things we have done. We will be judged by; I was hungry and you gave me too eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in.”

She certainly lived by those words and actions like that are an important and wonderful part of the Christian life.

You might even think that quote sums up what our text today is saying, but there is small part of that quote which is not quite right – and that one little thing makes all the difference.

Feeding, clothing, and finding homes for the homeless are things that we as Christians are called to do to show we have a living faith. We are reminded of this in James 2. ‘What good is it, my brothers and sisters if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them “Go in peace, keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.’

A living faith which shows itself in actions is an important thing, but if we were judged simply by our actions how would we know if we had done enough to be sorted with the sheep rather than the goats? Do you need to devote your life to it as Mother Teresa did – and how can you be sure even she did enough. How does your life compare to that of Mother Teresa?

If we look at the text like that, there is no comfort for us, we can never be sure that we have done enough. Indeed, if we look to our own efforts, we will always fall short of the perfection that God requires.

Thankfully it is not our actions that decide if we will be numbered with the sheep or the goats. That is determined simply by what we put our faith and trust in – do we look to the cross where the Son of God took on the punishment that should have been ours, where he suffered and died for your sins, where you are clothed with the righteousness of Christ and enter into a restored relationship with God. Or do we look to what we do and our actions to earn our salvation?

Putting our faith and trust in Christ the good shepherd is the only way to be numbered with the sheep, through it we have total certainty! It is not up to us and what we do because, Jesus has already done it.

That is where Mother Teresa despite all her wonderful care and compassion got it wrong. We will be judged by: if we look to and put our faith and trust in Christ and his saving work.

Our actions flow from our faith in Christ. While they are important, and they serve and show love to our neighbour, they do not in any way contribute to our salvation.

So, does this mean that we can just live as we like and not worry about other people? Certainly not! Our faith needs to be lived out – through the power of the Holy Spirit we are to reflect the love of Christ in our lives – as St Paul puts it in Galatians - faith expressing itself through love.

It is the faith in Christ and what he has done for us that comes first and that is source of our salvation. Our efforts to provide for people’s physical well-being is the Holy Spirt working through us responding to what Christ has done and continues to do for us.

However, meeting people’s physical needs is only part of the equation. People have spiritual needs as well. The verses I read from James highlighted that you can’t just address a person’s spiritual needs, similarly simply addressing a person’s physical needs isn’t enough. Feeding a person may keep them physically alive, but it is only through pointing them to Christ and bringing them to the Word of God, that they can be fed and saved spiritually.

So, let’s go back and look again at our text today, this time reading it with a focus on people’s spiritual needs.

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,

36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Each day we meet people who are spiritually hungry and thirsty. People who stand naked before God with their sin exposed, people who go through life spiritually alone without a heavenly home to look forward to. That was us before Jesus entered our lives.

You see, this text isn’t just talking about people’s physical needs it is talking about their spiritual needs as well.

Therefore, we need to consider both a person’s spiritual and physical needs.

But we can’t meet a person’s spiritual needs in the same way that we meet their physical needs. We can only direct them to Christ by passing on the message of forgiveness and salvation through his life, death and resurrection and entrust them to his love and mercy.

To equip us to do this, we need to spend time with Jesus ourselves.

That is why we gather together for worship. As we read in John’ Gospel – Jesus is the bread of life, he comes to us in a very special way in the Lord’s Supper and he offers the living water which we received in our baptism. It is he who feeds and sustains us.

Once we have been feed through Word and sacrament, we are strengthened and empowered through the Holy Spirit to bring his love into other people’s lives and by doing so, pointing them to Christ.

We do that secure in the knowledge that he is there to forgives us when we fall short of what is asked of us in our text today. Therefore, we don’t have to worry if we have done enough. We don’t have to compare ourselves with Mother Teresa, we can instead look at her and be inspired by her example.

We bring nothing, we simply cling to the cross of Christ! That is what covers our nakedness. Yes, Jesus died for you. That is what puts you back into a right relationship with God. That is why we have the certainty of being sheep and not goats.

And there’s more! Jesus didn’t just die for you - on the third day he rose again! Therefore, all those who put their faith and trust in him will also be raised. So, we have eternal glory to look forward to.

Consequently, we can enter into the new church year with hope and joy seeking to care physically and spiritually for our neighbours whoever and wherever they are, not to earn our salvation, but instead to give glory to Christ through whom we have salvation. And there is nothing sheepish about that!

Amen

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Sunday 15 November Message

15 November, 2020 Pastor Nigel Rosenzweig

G’day What time is it where you are right now? Some of you might recall the childhood game: What’s the time Mr Wolf It’s a great group game. One player is chosen to be the wolf and stands with their back to the rest of the players. The players then line up around 10-20m behind the wolf and call out, “What’s the time, Mr Wolf?”. The wolf replies with a time for example, “It’s three o’clock!” Then the players move forward the same number of steps before asking the question again, “What’s the time, Mr Wolf?” T he game continues until the players are very close to the wolf. Finally, the wolf replies to the question with the answer “It’s dinner time!

Immediately the wolf turns around and chases the players. Whoever gets caught becomes the wolf and the game starts again. I wonder what God would say to us if we were to ask: What’s the time God. Well in the Bible God does tell us w hat the time is: The Bible says: The day of the Lord is near This is the time we continue to live in. Let’s listen to Zephaniah 1:7,12 18 and discover what will happen at that time:

Be silent before the Sovereign LORD for the day of the LORD is near. The LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited.At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, “The LORD will do nothing, either good or bad.” 13 Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. Though they build houses, they will not live in them; though they plant vineyards, they will not drink the wine.’ 14 The great day of the LORD is near – near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the LORD is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry.15 That day will be a day of wrath – a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness – 16 a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. 17 ‘I will bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the LORD. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung. 18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath.’ In the fire of his jealousy the whole earth will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth.

Wow these are strong words from the Old Testament. God’s judgement on sin is real. There is nothing that we can do to save ourselves from the fire of God’s Judgement Our riches cannot save us. Because of sin there’ll come a time when everything on earth will come to a sudden end. I can’t imagine what such devastation could be like. But this is the destination we and the world have created for ourselves out of disobedience. If that was the only message we were to hear we would feel trapped and cornered and have no hope.

But today we can also give thanks to God for God has provided a new way to deal with sin and to set us free from the eternal destruction that has come upon the entire world because of our sin. God has provided us with a sacrifice to take away the sin of the world. Jesus is the means by which God deals with sin, rescuing us from the destruction we deserve because of sin.

In Jesus death and resurrection God deal s with our sin and begins his work of restoring his perfect relationship with us and all things.

As we live in the world of sin, God’s Holy S pirit is calling us to put our hope in the Lord Jesus and the sacrifice he has made It is the sacrifice that Jesus has made that consecrate s make s holy and sets apart all who hear and receive his gospel invitation. Today, you can praise God the Father for giving his son Jesus as the sacrifice to save you You can Thank Jesus for dying for you to deal with your sin once and for all, giving you a new life. You can also ask the Holy Spirit to help you live holy lives of love and service.

So how will we live as the day of the Lord draws near Let’s hear how the scriptures call us to be ready for the Lord’s coming in 1 Thessalonians 5:1 11

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety’, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

So what did you hear? I noticed in verse 11 that one thing we can do as we wait for the coming of the Lord is – ‘Encourage one another and build each other up…..’

In what ways are you encouraging one another and building each other up in your household? Your family, your community?

The good news is that God has appointed you to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes – Salvation is yours as a free gift. Jesus has dealt with your sin – you are free to live as forgiven people and make a positive difference in the world and in the lives of others. So as you receive this good news today, what else could you do to encourage others as an act of worship to God?

Our last scripture for today from Matthew 25:14 30, will help us consider how we can effectively use our time to bring greater blessing to all

Did you notice that the master gave to each of his three servants talents that were entrusted to them A talent was one extremely large portion of money. And each of these servants received at least one. Often when we look at this parable the first thing we notice is that each one received a different number of talents. We are good at noticing things like this. ‘Oh look my brother he has a bigger serve of food than me!’ W e love to compare and notice when one receive s more than an other.

When we look at this parable we often overlook the fact that each of them received a talent and no one missed out. Today I want you to notice that each of these three servants were appointed to put to work what they had received. Each of them was called assigned given the privilege of administering the gift they had been given. Each of them was invited to make a difference in the world by putting to work what they had received.

Before we go deeper, I also want you to think of one talent as the perfect measure of the Gospel. Think of a talent as the Good news that God forgives and saves and gives us eternal life. This is the talent we have all received in Jesus. And it is this gospel that we are invited to put it to work.

We put it to work by sharing it by speaking words of hope and forgiveness and future into the lives of each other by declaring God’s promises over one another We put it to work by living our faith out loud. Yes we are forgiven, Yes Jesus has given us a future! But when we look around us we quickly start to compare ourselves with others. We will always find someone else who has more of something than us Someone who is more capable, someone who appears to be more successful. And before we know it we become disappointed with life and we bury the gift we have been given. Much like the servant in the parable

Friends Be aware of disappointment. The evil one wants us to experience disappointment The evil one will seek to ensure that we have every opportunity to experience disappointment. The evil one will want to lead us towards disappointment and will use every trick and temptation to do so drawing us to focus on how someone or something isn’t what you thought it would be or should be The evil one will lead you to bury your gift.

When we experience disappointment we ultimately dis appoint ourselves. We loose sight of the appointment we have been given to be part of God’s solution in this world The Devil knows you are here for a reason. The devil knows you are a significant part of God’s plan to rebuild and bring hope to the nations He knows he can’t strip you of that power, but he is also aware that you can strip yourself of that power. That’s why the devil wants you disappointed.

When we think things have not worked out according to our plan what are we really doing? We are putting our trust in our own understanding and timing rather than trusting in the will and ways of God. You see God’s ways are different to our ways, God is good and he is able to bring about his final desired outcome from any set of circumstances.

You and I have been appointed to share the gospel with others The Gospel is the Good news that we are unconditionally loved by God in Jesus. But as soon as I start looking to compare myself with others I quickly say I’m not good enough and I bury what I have been given When I do this, I am dis appointing myself I am letting go of the calling and responsibility and privilege that has been placed on my life. And instead of doing what I am called to do I am tempted to do the opposite.

There will be many obstacles that come our way in life, and these may lead us to experience disappointment But today Jesus parable becomes a reminder to me and I hope to you too, to remember your calling. Remember your appointment you have been appointed to use the gift God has given you You may look around and feel that there are others who are more qualified than you You may look around and consider that t heir faith or capacity or resources may be stronger or bolder or brighter. But do not disappoint yourself by comparing yourself to others.

Remember you are appointed to be stewards of the gospel he has given you. And while the enemy's trap of disappointment causes us to dis appoint ourselves, the encouragement of the Lord that we can receive through each other in community will f ill us with the courage we need to put to work what we have received. The encouragement of the lord that we receive in community will empower us to lean not on our own understanding but instead lean into the Lord, trusting in Him no matter what!

So trust in the Lord with all your heart. Refuse to be disappointed. See yourself as an instrument that God can use to bring about his solution. We may be broken by our own sin, but God in his grace comes to us and claims us as his He says to use who are broken and rejected ‘You are mine I love you’. He encourages us and restores us as instruments though which his will can be done. Remember the gift he has given you, and put it to use in your own life this may mean learning to forgive yourself. Put it to work a lso in the life of those in your sphere of influence. You will never loose the gospel talent god has given you by putting it to work and sharing it. You can only loose it by burying it. As you speak the genuine gospel out loud into the lives of those around you it will multiply maybe in ways we may not see straight away but it will happen That’s what good news does! It multiplies simply by speaking it out

Speaking the Good news that we are loved by God and demonstrating our love for love one another, Announcing that we are forgiven by God and are forgiven by one another, declaring that we have a future together with God forever all because of Jesus These are the best way s we can use our time.

You have 168 hours each week. May you use your time wisely putting t o work the gift of Salvation that God has given you by sharing it with others. Time is running out for all of us We only have so much time on this side of eternity. Now is the time to use your time well. Amen

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Why are we waiting

8 November, 2020 Pastor Andrew Brook

25 ‘At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 ‘At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” 7 ‘Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.” 9 ‘“No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.” 10 ‘But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 11 ‘Later the others also came. “Lord, Lord,” they said, “open the door for us!” 12 ‘But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.” 13 ‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. Matthew 25:1-13

I’ve conducted dozens of weddings over almost 28 years of ministry. I’ve waited for plenty of brides. Most were fashionably late, up to 15 minutes or so. Perhaps it was a courtesy to allow the guests who themselves weren’t on time to find their seats. Most of the time, I think it was designed to cause just the slightest shiver of concern for the nervous groom.

The longest I’ve ever had to wait for a bride to arrive was 55 minutes, made all the more remarkable by the fact that she was being driven to the church in a Ferrari 360. But even a Ferrari could not find a way through the dreaded Melbourne weekend traffic.

I’ve haven’t conducted any weddings this year. Both that were booked in had to be cancelled because of the COVID-19 restrictions meant that only a few family and friends would have been able to attend the wedding. I’m glad to report that both weddings are rescheduled for the new year, God willing.

Waiting. Not for the bride, but for the bridegroom. That’s the focus of the parable that Jesus tells us today. The bridegroom is Jesus himself, and he will, at the time of the Father’s choosing, come back for his bride, the church. And then there will be a wedding reception for the ages, for all eternity in fact. That’s the promise in the tail of the parable, although perhaps as we hear Jesus’ words today, it seems more like a sting: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” It all depends whether we are looking forward to Jesus’ return, or not? Or even whether we think much about at all.

I sense that the events of this year have made people ponder the really big questions: Where are we heading? Are our younger generations going to face a less well-off future? Are we entering a period of political instability, even conflict? And perhaps the biggest question of all: what will the changing climate mean for our global future?

The first people to read the New Testament didn’t need to be reminded about taking the promise of Jesus’ return seriously. And in part that’s because Jesus talked a great deal about it. The whole of the previous chapter of Matthew is dedicated to Jesus’ teaching about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the signs that point to the end of time, and Jesus’ own triumphant return. The language Jesus uses, and the pictures he paints, may seem strange and disconcerting to us, but for the first Christians they were words that brought them great hope and comfort, as they sought to be faithful followers of Jesus when there was intense pressure to compromise their confession that Jesus alone was Lord.

The hope of Jesus’ return is a thread of encouragement and hope that runs through the New Testament. Because Jesus has defeated the power of sin, death and Satan, we can live confidently and creatively in the face of what are ‘mopping up’ operations, as sin and evil thrash around in their death throes.

Jesus’ parable is set in the context of a wedding celebration, somewhat different from the way we go about things today. The bridegroom prepared for his wedding at his parent’s house. He then processed to the bride’s house, where the festivities began. In the early evening, the bride, groom and their guests would make their way to the groom’s home. But here the bride and her attendants are still waiting for the groom to turn up.

They did think to bring along their lamps. And five of them have brought jars containing extra oil for their lamps. But the other five didn’t. The ones who have extra oil Jesus calls ‘wise.’ These five have their head screwed on. The others he calls foolish. Moronic, in fact. We will soon see why.

Time passes, but nothing seems to happen. All ten fall asleep. I wonder what’s keeping the bridegroom?

Finally, the call rings out in the middle of the night at midnight. ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ So the bridesmaids trim their lamps. But the foolish, unprepared ones strike trouble. They’ve run out of oil. They ask the wise ones for some help, but they decline. “There may not be enough for both us and you.” They give them this advice: “Go and buy some of your own.” The foolish five comply, and off they go.

Wouldn’t you know. It’s right now that the bridegroom makes his grand entrance, and takes the five wise bridesmaids with him. The door is firmly shut and the party begins. When the five foolish bridesmaids return with oil in hand, no amount of pleading will get them in. There’s a chilling reply. “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.”

This is a word no one would want to hear. Who would want to miss out on the party to end all parties-the wedding reception of the Bridegroom and his Bride, the church? Yet if we go back to the Parable of the Wedding Banquet a few chapters earlier in Matthew’s gospel, many people did reject this invitation because there were just too many other, more pressing priorities. Here, all the bridesmaids received and responded to their invitation, but only the wise ones ended up at the celebration. What was it, then, that made the wise bridesmaids wise? The word Jesus uses to describe them gives us a clue: it’s a word that means practical intelligence, resourcefulness. What they know is oriented toward putting thought into action.

Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builder in Matthew 7 helps us to unlock the meaning of this parable. Jesus uses the same words ‘wise’ and ‘foolish’ there too, to contrast the action of two builders. ‘Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.’ By contrast, the foolish builder is the one who heard but disregarded Jesus’ words. Jesus here links foolishness with disobedience, with listening to the word of God but not putting it into practice.

The five wise bridesmaids knew that waiting was a possibility. So they are prepared for it. They’ve stocked up with an extra flask of olive oil. We, too, know what it’s like to wait. We don’t know what held the bridegroom up in this parable. But we do have a sense about why we are still waiting.

The Apostle Peter says, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God’s patience means there is still time for the good news to do its saving work. And while we wait, God calls us to play our part in his mission.

So that’s what we do while we’re waiting. There have been two traditions throughout Christian history about what the oil in the bridesmaids’ lamps might mean. The first is that the oil is a symbol of good works, in the light of Jesus' words. 'You are the light of the world…Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven.' Wisdom means putting into action what we believe in theory.

As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, just before the words about wise and foolish builders that we heard earlier: “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

When Luther interpreted this parable, he said that the oil represented faith. Faith is what is required to get you through the dark night, especially when the bridegroom seems to be putting in a no show, and where evil seems to hold the upper hand. Faith means trusting in the persevering grace of God to renew his whole creation. There's no contradiction between these two interpretations. After all, faith produces faithfulness, and faithfulness works itself out in our lives in acts of love and service.

Why are we waiting? Because God has not yet finished with his creation. God is still doing his saving work, and he has commissioned us to be part of this task. Showing gracious and patient love in a world of stresses and strains. Inviting people to Jesus, the Bridegroom who will come, who has made his people holy, and will come to gather them to himself when he returns in glory.

Waiting is not easy, and never more so than in a world which contradicts the will and way of God at every turn. Who knows how long the bridegroom will be delayed? As long as it suits God, and as long as his patience stretches for a lost world. So our waiting is purposeful, and hopeful. We know that what we are waiting for-to be with the Lord when he comes. And in the meantime, we wait well by letting our light shine brightly. Amen.

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